Week 4: Tombs and funerary art of early China

Check you have completed your assignments for Week 3. I'm more than happy to grant extensions, but please bear in mind: as the semester progresses, I am less likely to spot missing submissions/declarations etc, and then it becomes a more time-consuming mess to sort out. So henceforth: do the assignment, hop over to Canvas, collect your points.

If you're struggling keeping everything aligned:

  • At the start of the week, write down all your assignment due dates in your diary/calendar. (You won't survive college without one! Either paper or electronic will do.)
  • Canvas due dates are listed in the Canvas Calendar, and you can add the Canvas Calendar to your own device.
  • Sign up for the Daily Course Announcements to get them via email (sidebar on the right), just check the green box for a quick reminder of what's due on that day.
  • Talk to the Academic Resource Center about time-management and planning. There are many different strategies, and there is one out there for you!

Table of Contents


Fear for the ancestors prompted the Shang people to treat the deceased with a lot of respect. The tomb of Lady Hao, the consort of King Wuding, shows us just how much effort went into providing all the necessities for the afterlife. Those ideas did not disappear, but the attitude towards the dead would change over time. (If you're interested, see for instance Von Glahn, Richard. “The Han Cult of the Dead and Salvific Religion.” In The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture, 45-77. University of California Press, 2004.) Nevertheless, when people had the means, they gave their dead a lavish burial, and the most lavish of them all was undoubtedly the First Emperor's tomb, with the terra cotta army, located about 1.5M east of the tomb itself.

The terra cotta army of the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huangdi) is, just like the Great Wall, an incredible achievement from early Chinese history. Like we did for the Great Wall, we will try to separate fact from fiction. Note that archaeological investigations and historical research are still ongoing, and our understanding of this cultural relic is likely to change and refine in future years. In addition to the reading, think about what you may have seen or heard about the terra cotta army, and the tomb: myths, legends, tall tales...

Everybody will read basic information about how the warriors were made, but you have a choice this week to specialize further in the tomb and warriors of the First emperor, or read about how other people around that time were buried. The focus is on the materiality of the tombs: the objects, the construction, the resources, the people who created them and what this tells us about the culture and the state that created them. The beliefs underlying the tomb creation also play a role, but are not the focus in this course.


Basic set: everybody reads this

  • Slides (Gdrive link)
  • Ledderose, Lothar. Ten Thousand Things : Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art. The A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1998. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.
    • Chapter 3: "A Magic Army for the Emperor" (PDF)
    • How and why was the army created?
    • Do you see parallels with the production of bronzes, discussed in last week's readings?
  • Hung, Wu. The Art of the Yellow Springs: Understanding Chinese Tombs. London: Reaktion Books, 2010. (ebook Trexler)
    • "Introduction" (pp. 7-16)
    • This is a general introduction to early Chinese views of the afterlife. (i.e. China until the end of the Han dynasty). What are the major points that help you understand how we should look at the material remains of the views of the afterlife?

Pick one of the following two options:

Option A: Deeper dive into the First Emperor's tomb

  • Riegel, Jeffrey, “Archaeology of the First Emperor’s Tomb” (2 parts). Lectures 3 and 4 in the series Arts of Asia, by Asian Art Museum. (video lectures)
  • Mercury was derived from cinnabar; follow the link to this tweet to see it in mineral form.
    • Many an emperor poisoned himself in search of immortality by taking pills made with cinnabar...
  • OPTIONAL EXTRA: NOVA. “Emperor’s Ghost Army.” Produced by Ian Bremner. Directed by Lion Television Ltd. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 2014. Online Video. (Link)
    • A much more spectacular look at the archaeology (Dramatic music and all!)
  • OPTIONAL EXTRA: in Chinese, but with pictures: most recent finds in tombs near the First Emperor's tomb. Small objects, but also some pictures that give you a good sense of the scale of the excavations.

Option B: Other tombs of Early China

  • Selbitschka, Armin. "Miniature Tomb Figurines and Models in Pre-Imperial and Early Imperial China: Origins, Development and Significance." World Archaeology 47, no. 1 (2015): 20-44. (article in Trexler).
    • The focus of this article is on the numerous objects buried with the dead, and how the meaning and function of these objects changed throughout the centuries.
    • Try a "three sentence summary" of the article to come to the core of the argument: what is the key idea the author tries to convince you of?
  • Gallery of Han tomb objects: Google Arts and Culture collection of Mawangdui objects and list of objects from the MET (NYC)
    • These are provided to help you understand the readings better.
  • Archaeologists in China keep finding tombs, including from the Han dynasty, check out this twitter thread for a recent spectacular find near the tomb of Emperor Wen of Han near Xi'an.
  • Although the subjects would change over the centuries, the idea of providing small earthenware objects for the dead remained, see for instance this example of the twelve animals of the East Asian zodiac from the sixth century from a Northern Wei tomb.

Assignments (in order of due date)

Feedback on the Shang dynasty reflections

2 points, due by Tuesday Sept. 15, 11.59PM ET.

Read through the reflections from others and get a sense of what they feel they learned! Remember that learning and writing is a collaborative process; be open for new insights and ideas. Read more and become a better reader and writer.

Here are two students’ Reflection posts on the Great Wall

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Comment using Hypothes.is group HST137
  • Content: draw the writer’s attention to something they missed, or point out how they highlight something you weren’t aware of
  • Style: do you have tips how the writer can make their reflection pack a tighter punch? Does the writer have great sentences or choice of words? What would you like to emulate? Share it!
    • Note: Spelling and phrasing are not the most important, but if you notice a pattern, it is helpful to point it out.

When you’re ready, head over to Canvas and fill out the Declaration Quiz to claim your points.

- I commented on two fellow students’ end of week reflections on the Shang dynasty readings, using the Hypothes.is group HST137.
- I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
- I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

Initial post on early Chinese tombs

3 points, due by Tuesday Sept. 15, 11:59PM ET, but start reading earlier so you have time to digest.

You will read and watch the materials in the Basic Set in the reading list, and then pick either Option A for a deeper dive into the First Emperor’s mausoleum (figuratively) OR Option B for a chance to look at other elite tombs. Then write an initial post of appr. 200 words. (As always: more is fine if you have things to say.) Look through the slide deck, and use the guiding questions as starting points, but you can also begin from your own observations of what is strange, remarkable, or interesting.

This post is your “opening salvo” in a discussion of these course materials. This is also the place where you can ask questions about things you don’t understand: perhaps there are contradictions in or between the texts you read, or you can’t make head or tail of something?

  • Include the bibliographic references for the materials you choose, so we know which ones you picked.
    • Top tip: copy-paste from the list, they are (hopefully) correctly formatted in bibliography format for Chicago Notes and Bibliography style.
  • Add an image that illustrates the topic of your post, with a caption and credit for the image (e.g. a hyperlink to the source). (Memes, if relevant, are welcome!)
  • Include the word Tombs in the title of the post
  • Add it to the category hst137 on your blog.

When you’re done, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I wrote a post of about 200 words in response to the readings about early Chinese tombs.
- I included the bibliographic references for the materials I used for my post.
- I included an image, and provided a caption and credit (source) for the image.
- I use the word Tombs in the title, added the post to category hst137

Discussion and comments in Hypothes.is

2 points, due Thursday Sept. 17, by 11.59pm ET.

There are two options this week, so to help you cover more ground without doing all the reading, looking at other students’ posts should help. Below you find links to four blog posts from your fellow students. If one of the websites is your own, or it is twice the same person’s, refresh the page, and you should get new sites.

  • Post 1:
  • Post 2:
  • Post 3:
  • Post 4:

Leave feedback, questions, thoughts, insights about the contents of the posts of your fellow students, using Hypothes.is group HST137. You can ask for clarifications, point out similarities and differences with the material you covered, or with your interpretation. This should encourage you to nose around in the other materials you did not read in the first round.

Use the “Architect’s Model” of giving feedback, and engage with concrete issues. Go beyond “Yeah, I agree,” “I like” or “I think the same”, and instead explain why you have that reaction, or if you disagree, you can try to persuade the original poster of your idea or interpretation.

Remember that Hypothes.is allows for hyperlinks, e.g. to materials that support your argument, or you can include pictures (memes! [yes, there she is again]), videos etc. that help the original poster to learn more.

When you’ve commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I commented on four fellow students’ initial posts on the readings about the early Chinese tombs using Hypothes.is group HST137.
- I made sure to leave substantial comments that move the discussion forward and help to create better insights, and go beyond a “nice” or “great”.
- I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

First Reflection on the past few weeks

WHEN By Friday, 11.59pm. (If you observe Rosh Hashanah and this assignment interferes, please email me in advance to arrange a different due date!)

WHAT We are now three-four weeks into the semester, and I would like you to take the time to reflect on your learning in this course so far. Write a 500-800 word piece, engaging with at least two of the following sets of questions. This is one of the "Proofing the bread" tasks.

  1. How have you engaged with the course materials? What would you like to improve in your preparation and participation (which consists of writing posts and commenting)? What are you doing well?
  2. How have you treated the end of week reflection? Do you use it to dig deeper, have you gained new insights or perspectives, or have you merely tried to get through it as fast as possible? When you look back on the reflections you have written so far, and compare your work with others’, what do you observe?
  3. What have you learned in this course so far, in contents and/or in historical skills? Do you see patterns emerge? What are some of the threads or overarching topics you are interested in? What in your work so far makes you say: “yes, I am thinking like a historian”?
  4. What grade would you give yourself for “thoughtful participation in the Learning Commons” so far? What does an “A” grade look like for this component, according to your interpretation of the syllabus description?

WHY These reflections help me understand how you learn, and how I can best support your learning. I also hope you use this as a moment to think about your goals for the course, and, if necessary how you can push the reset button on your engagement with the course, and commit anew to your goals for this course.

You will develop your metacognitive skills (knowing what you know) throughout the semester with a few more of these reflections.

HOW Write as a blog post, or as a Word or Google doc file, and submit on Canvas in this assignment.

You can submit a URL, or upload a document in docx, pdf, rtf, doc, txt format.

End of week reflection (early Chinese tombs)

3 points, due on Sunday, Sept. 20 by 11:59pm ET.

If you really engaged with the topic of early China’s tombs and funerary culture this week, your insights have changed: you know more about the way people buried their dead, and the ways archaeologists and historians try to preserve these finds, and interpret them.

Just like before, in your post you will also include three bullet points “Things I learned this week” – what do you know now about tombs in early China that you did not know at the start of this week?

  • Write a blog post of appr. 200 words (more is fine if you have Ideas), include the bibliographic details of the texts you refer to or engage with.
    • How have your ideas changed?
    • How do you now think about tombs, the early Chinese state, the terra cotta warriors, .... ?
    • What new research questions can you ask, that you never thought about before?
  • Add your three bullet points with “Things I learned this week”.
  • Use the word Reflection in the title, and use the tag week4, and add to category hst137.

When you’ve commented on four posts, read this declaration carefully, and then fill out the Canvas quiz to collect your points.

- I wrote a blog post of appr. 200 words to demonstrate my changed/enhanced understanding of tombs in early Chinese history.
- I included a list with the bibliographic references of the texts I used to create my post.
- I added three bullet points under the heading “Three things I learned this week”.
- I use the word Reflection in the title, used the tag week4, and added the post to category hst137 .

Extra Credit

1. Extra commenting

Due by Sunday, Sept. 20, 11.59pm; 2 points for 4 additional blogs

Do you like reading your colleagues’ work? Do you like helping them out by identifying ways to make their posts better? Here’s some good news! You can earn extra credit by doing extra commenting! This assignment will be available regularly throughout the semester.

  • Go to the Blog Stream of the Class
  • Pick a post that piques your curiosity and that you have not yet commented on
  • Use Hypothes.is group HST137, and leave feedback as we practiced with the Architects’s model
  • Pick 3 other posts: they can come from other students in the blog stream, or if you like the writer, you can stay with them and comment more.
  • The only conditions are
    • that you do not comment on blog posts you already commented on before, as part of your regular weekly “sourdough starter” tasks.
    • that the post is actually written for HST137, and not some other class. Check the category, and the content :upside down smiley:
  • Add the tag extra to the comment (this helps me to keep track of how many people use this option.)

When you’re done, please read this declaration carefully and then collect your points on Canvas with the Declaration Quiz.

I selected three blogs I have not yet commented on before, from our class’ blog stream, and I used the Hypothes.is group HST137.
I made sure to leave substantial comments that help the writer to improve the post, or to identify their strengths.
I added the tag extra to my Hypothes.is comments.
I left comments that I would like to receive myself: thoughtful, helpful, kind, but also pointing out errors so they can be fixed.

2: Record your name with NameCoach in Canvas

Due by Sunday Sept. 20, 11.59pm, 1 point

Some of you have no doubt wondered how you pronounce my name. (It’s ok, I don’t mind people mispronouncing it. I’d rather you try than say “Oh I won’t even try because I’ll just butcher it.”) To help you out, I recorded it using NameCoach, and put it on Canvas. You can record your name, too!

Check out this a brief video tutorial from our friends at the OIT office, to walk you through. It is very easy. When you’re done, check it is showing up on our Canvas course NameCoach tab.

Then read this Declaration, and go to the Canvas Declaration Quiz to collect your extra credit point.

I recorded my name in NameCoach for our Canvas site.
I checked my recording shows up correctly on the Canvas site.

Where to ask questions?

Remember that it is highly likely that you are not the only one with that question. Save me time, and help your fellow students by asking questions where others can see them. If you know the answer to a question, jump in! I can’t be everywhere all the time.

Missing link? Wrong information? Email me!

On to week 5 (coming soon!)